All right. I've finally read one of Patrick Jones' YA novels. I was SO resistant to reading one, that it began to bug me. Why? I've seen him speak, been to one of his preconference shindigs, bought and used many of the ideas in his Connecting YA tome ... so what was the problem? He's engaging, enthusiastic, an obvious advocate for teen reading, and a man who has found a place to work where he can be himself, express himself, and wear a glorious array of intriguing tee shirts and sneakers. And he is now not only a nationally known speaker and non-fiction writer, but a YA novelist as well.
Then it hit me. I am green as jade with Patrick Jones Envy.
And that, I decided is a petty excuse for turning my back on his novels. So, last night, I curled up with Things Change. First off, having been through several of his presentations, I would have expected his first fiction be done in the form of a graphic novel - but not so. Johanna and Paul are interesting characters. It is obvious that in his work, Jones is not only a teen advocate but an excellent listener and observer. He infuses Paul's world with the cars and music that he proselytizes about, as well as some serious sex. In so many teen novels, the sexual content seems jarring, forced, or puerile. In this one, I didn't even register it until I was musing over the book as a whole. Despite Paul's more dramatic persona and the interwoven "letters to a dead dad" segments, this is really Johanna's story. Her conflicts and thoughts are the heart of the plot. Why is she so taken by this obviously (sorry, but he is) disturbed boy? Why is she so ready to throw away everything in her life to be with him? What satisfaction is she getting from the relationship that outweighs the personal loss and the physical abuse? Will something break the camel's back before Paul literally breaks hers?
I could think of a relationship or two in my teens that - although not physically abusive - had that "seriously-bad-boy-gonna-make-my-parents-crazy" thing going for them. Some of Johanna's self-rationalizations and excuses to her family and friends seemed quite familiar. But I was sorry not to get as full a picture of Paul. He appears to be doomed to repeat his pattern over and over and over and over and the ending, while chilling and probably realistic, left me feeling off kilter. Yes, it underscores the rightness of Johanna's decision, but makes Paul an unchanged character. No development, no inner life, no future, no hope.
I found myself wondering if Patrick might write the book again, from Paul's point of view next time around, so I could see where that story started and ended.
And yes, I do still envy PJ. There, I've admitted it.